Glasgow Airport Attacked By Jeep With Explosives

One day after police foiled two car bombings in London, a Jeep Cherokee in flames was driven at full speed into the main terminal of Glasgow airport at 3.15 pm local time.

Witnesses said two men of Asian appearance drove the blazing Jeep through the glass doors at the departures lounge and only stopped when they crashed into security barriers, setting off a series of explosions.

Eyewitness Ian Crosby, a taxi driver, said: “This was no accident. This was a deliberate attack on Glasgow Airport.”

“There were flames coming out from underneath, then some men appeared from in amongst the flames,” said another witness. “The police ran over and the people started fighting with the police. I then heard what sounded like an explosion.”

At the time, Fiona Tracey was at the airport picking up her daughter. “There were people injured, because I’ve seen them lying on the road,” she said. “I was standing next to departures when I heard a great big massive bang, and then all the folk from departures were running through arrivals.”

After the men emerged from the Jeep, one engulfed in flames, they tried to flee on foot but were tackled first by passengers and then by police.

One witness said, “Some holidaymaker tried to restrain one of the men, then the police came over and wrestled him to the ground – the fire was burning through his clothes – and finally put him out with a fire extinguisher.”

Stephen Clarkson said he was stunned at first to see people racing past him and the Jeep in flames in the distance. When he noticed that police were clearly in pursuit of one man running towards him, he swung into action. “It was lucky that I was there,” he said. “I managed to knock the man to the ground with my forearm and the police got on top of him and restrained him and put handcuffs on him.”

Dr Rak Nandwani was collecting visiting relatives when he heard the explosion and noticed a plume of black smoke rising from the flaming vehicle. “The whole place has come to a standstill, the terminal building has been evacuated,” he said. “I have spoken to my relatives and they have been moved to outside the building. They were told they could not pick their baggage up from the baggage collection area. There must be about 50 police cars at the airport. Me and my son, along with everyone else, have been moved to the car rental area.”

A spokesman for the British Airports Authority confirmed the evacuation and the cancellation of all incoming and outgoing flights: “A car is on fire at the entrance to the terminal and there is considerable smoke damage to the terminal. The terminal has been evacuated as a result of this and all flights have now been suspended.”

Strathclyde Fire Service quickly brought the blaze under control but are still at the scene.

Strathclyde Police released a statement saying it is too early to tell whether the incident was a terrorist attack or in any way related to the attempted car bombings in London.

“Local roads have been closed and police are advising members of the public not to travel to the airport. Incoming and outgoing flights have been suspended until further notice and the airport has been closed,” said the statement.

“Strathclyde Police would like to reassure the public that it is unknown at present if this is connected with the incidents in London as enquiries are at an early stage. However, we would ask the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to the police.”

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US Supreme Court on Political Advertising, Faith-Based Policies

The US Supreme Court handed down two decisions on Monday that will allow large corporations greater influence on elections through political advertising, and protect the White House’s faith-based initiatives from further legal challenges.

Speaking for the majority in one 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said that restrictions on television advertising funded by corporations and other organizations in the lead up to elections amounted to censorship of core political speech, unless the ads clearly urged voters to vote for or against named candidates.

This effectively strikes down a central tenet of the McCain-Feingold Act (formally the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act 2002) which stemmed the flow of ‘soft money’ contributions and banned the broadcasting of corporate or union funded ads 60 days before general elections and 30 days before primaries.

Justice David Souter, one of the dissenters, warned against the flow of large sums of money into political advertising. “The ban on (soft money) contributions will mean nothing much, now that companies and unions can save candidates the expense of advertising directly,” he said. “After today, the ban on contributions by corporations and unions, and the limitation on their corrosive spending when they enter the political arena, are open to easy circumvention.”

Monday’s decision arose from a case which involved a group called Wisconsin Right to Life, who were prevented from running political ads during the 2004 election which urged listeners to contact the state’s Democratic Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl to insist that they not filibuster conservative judicial nominees.

Although both Republican and Democratic interests stand to benefit from Monday’s ruling, it was conservative and business interests who led the charge to lift the ban on corporate-funded political advertising.

“This decision is a clear vindication of the rights of all Americans, including the private sector, to speak out and publicly petition their government,” said Steven Law, the chief legal officer and general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce.

The executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, Barbara Lyons, also hailed the ruling and said, “In an election year, if groups want to urge people to communicate with their lawmakers about an issue, they can do so without going to jail.”

However, other groups said the decision would favor large corporations whose advertising would now hold considerable sway in elections.

“This is a big win for big money,” said Mary Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters. “Chief Justice Roberts has reopened the door to corruption.”

Kenneth Gross, a Washington-based election law attorney who represents corporations, expressed similar concerns. “The significance of it is, you can use soft money to do these ads. This is a clear shot over the bow by this court that there is going to be less regulation of money in politics. The fulcrum has now shifted.”

In another decision, the Supreme Court ruled that ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge the funding decisions of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, created by executive order without Congressional approval.

A group of atheists and agnostics challenged the program’s funding as unconstitutional on the basis that it amounted to government promotion of religion, because it actively steers hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to religious organizations and thus violates the separation of church and state.

Since President Bush established the faith-based program in January 2001, secular groups have complained that program’s funding has favored religious organizations, who are invited to taxpayer-funded conferences and urged to apply and compete for federal funding – one of the program’s stated goals.

Explaining the court’s 5-4 decision, Justice Samuel Alito said, “It is a complete fiction to argue that an unconstitutional federal expenditure causes an individual federal taxpayer any measurable economic harm. And if every federal taxpayer could sue to challenge any government expenditure, the federal courts would cease to function as courts of law and would be cast in the role of general complaint bureaus.”

Although taxpayers were granted the right to sue if Congress funded programs that violate the separation of church and state in the 1968 case Flast v. Cohen, the court ruled that this is not applicable because the funding for the President’s faith-based program was “paid for out of general Executive Branch appropriations” and thus not directly funded by Congress.

On the dissenting side, Justice David Souter said, “There is no dispute that taxpayer money in identifiable amounts is funding conferences, and these are alleged to have the purpose of promoting religion. When executive agencies spend identifiable sums of tax money for religious purposes, no less than when Congress authorizes the same thing, taxpayers suffer injury.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, agreed. “Taxpayers should be allowed to challenge public funding of religion, whether the money is allocated by Congress or the White House.”

Other advocates for separation of church and state were also disappointed by the ruling. Annie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said the decision would serve to prohibit legal examination of church-state relations.

Meanwhile, President Bush said the decision represents “a substantial victory for efforts by Americans to more effectively aid our neighbors in need of help. The faith-based and community initiative can remain focused on strengthening America’s armies of compassion and expanding their good works.”

Baghdad Suicide Bombings Kill, Wound Scores of Iraqis

Four separate suicide bombings on Monday left forty Iraqis dead and more than one hundred wounded in a wave of devastating attacks clearly intended to derail the new US-Iraqi security plan.

One of the bombings, at Baghdad’s Mansour Hotel, seems to have targeted a meeting of the Anbar Salvation Council, made up of Anbar tribal chiefs determined to drive al Qaeda out of their province. A suicide bomber slipped past two external security checkpoints and another one inside before making his way to the bustling hotel lobby. Moments after six tribal chiefs arrived in the lobby and ordered tea, the bomber blew himself up, killing 12 people and wounding fifteen.

Among the dead were the six tribal chiefs in the lobby (including Fassal al-Gawud, a former governor of Anbar); Hussein Shaalan, a Shiite Member of Parliament; and Rahim al-Maliki, an Iraqi poet who worked as a news anchor and producer for the state-run Iraqiyah television station.

The Mansour Hotel is located on the west bank of the Tigris River (now mostly Sunni territory) half a mile from the heavily fortified Green Zone. It houses the Chinese Embassy, several Western news organizations and a number of Members of Parliament from various regions around Iraq.

The day’s bloodshed started at 6.30 am when a suicide bomber slammed a black Chevy Caprice into a group of police cadets gathered outside the Hilla police academy 60 miles south of Baghdad. Sunni insurgents have frequently targeted Shiite pilgrims traveling through Hilla as they made their way south from Baghdad to the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. Yesterday’s explosion left 8 police recruits dead and 31 wounded. They were one week away from graduation.

About two hours later, another suicide bomber ploughed an explosives laden oil tanker into the police headquarters in the town of Baiji, 150 miles north of Baghdad. The blast killed 18 police and inmates and wounded 55; it was so powerful it sent out a fireball that razed a row of shops across the street and damaged other nearby buildings, including a school.

Thirty year-old Ahmed Abdullah, who owns a tire repair shop across the street from the police station, told the Washington Post, “A ball of fire came out of the police station and hit the shops across the street. It was just like a horror movie. The last thing I remember is that my clothes and hair caught fire.” Mr Abdullah said that he and others were trapped in their shops, but were eventually rescued and taken to a local hospital.

Forty-five minutes later, a suicide car bomber rammed into a US-Iraqi checkpoint in the town of Siniya, nine miles west of Baiji. Two Iraqi soldiers were killed and 3 wounded in that attack.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s bloodbath, local leaders maintained a grim determination to defeat al Qaeda, whom they blamed for the bombings.

Sheikh Mahmud Daham of Anbar, a meeting delegate for the Anbar Salvation Council at the Mansour Hotel, told AFP that al Qaeda was targeting tribes that are fighting terrorism. “Iraq will stay standing, no matter what you do,” he said. “We are not afraid of you and we are going to continue fighting you.”

UN High Commissioner Counts Over 4 Million Iraqi Refugees

As reports from Iraq continue to focus on the country’s rising death toll, which now includes 3,550 Americans and more than 500,000 Iraqis, World Refugee Day on Wednesday served as a reminder that more than four million Iraqis have also been displaced from their homes since the 2003 invasion.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 2.2 million Iraqis have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan, with another 2 million displaced internally within Iraq.

While Iraqi men account for the majority of those killed as soldiers, police or victims of bombings or kidnappings, their widows and children make up the vast majority of refugees.

The lack of humanitarian aid and resettlement options has meant that many Iraqi female-headed households are now resorting to previously unthinkable alternatives – surviving on the earnings of prostitution and living in shanty towns.

Carolyn Makinson, executive director of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, said, “The rampant insecurity within Iraq and the lack of humanitarian assistance in neighboring countries puts women and children at great risk of abuse. There are reports of Iraqi women and young girls forced into prostitution to survive and children forced into labor and other forms of exploitation.”

Reports on Iraqi refugees in Syria have noted that girls as young as 13 years of age are working as prostitutes in the night clubs of Damascus. Most of the cars parked outside the clubs appear to belong to Saudi men.

A recent article in the New York Times featured an interview with a woman who called herself Umm Hiba (mother of Hiba). She said her daughter had been a high academic achiever and a devout girl who rose early each morning to pray before going to school.

They fled their home in Baghdad and arrived in Syria last spring, where the family soon found it difficult to survive without access to employment. Now 16 years of age, Hiba brings in the family’s sole income by working as a prostitute.

“We Iraqis used to be a proud people, but during the war we lost everything. We even lost our honor,” said Umm Hiba. “I’m so angry. Do you think we’re happy that these men from the Gulf are seeing our daughters’ naked bodies?”

Mouna Asaad, a Syrian women’s rights lawyer, said that the government is sympathetic but cannot provide for the needs of more than one million refugees; out of desperation many girls and women take on sex work to support their families.

“Sometimes you see whole families living this way,” she said. “We don’t have shelters or health centers that these women can go to. And because of the situation in Iraq, Syria is careful not to deport these women.”

One sixteen year-old Iraqi prostitute named Zahra, recently interviewed by The Independent, said she takes care of her 13 year-old sister, who now also works in the same Damascus night club. “What can we do? I hope things get better in Iraq, because I miss it. I want to go back, but I have to look after my sister.”

Yet back in Iraq, there are nearly as many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as there are refugees who have fled the country. The number of Iraqi refugees continues to grow by 50,000 each month, and an increasing number of families are setting up camp in shanty towns.

Andrew Harper, head of UNHCR’s Iraq support unit in Geneva recently told CNN, “What we do know is that Iraqis detest living in camps and the fact that we are now seeing these types of camps being established is a very bad sign that other options are no longer available.”

One of the refugee camps Mr Harper visited in May, Al-Manathera in Najaf province, had a population of more than 2,000. Ninety percent of the shanty town’s residents were women and children. Living conditions were deplorable: there was an inadequate water supply, no toilets and a lack of medical care for children suffering from typhoid, diarrhea and skin rashes.

On Wednesday, Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and others introduced a bill detailing their proposed Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act. The draft legislation sets out a plan to provide humanitarian aid for refugees in Iraq and neighboring countries, and to increase the US intake of Iraqi refugees who were made especially vulnerable to revenge killings due to their association with the US as employees, consultants or contractors in Iraq.

The US has been widely criticized for taking in only 466 Iraqi refugees since the 2003 invasion; however, plans were recently announced to resettle 7,000 Iraqi refugees in the US this year.

The Bush administration previously resisted pressure to take in Iraqi refugees, arguing that this would pose a threat to US national security and might be interpreted as an admission that the US had lost the war in Iraq.

Guantanamo Review Tribunals Flawed Says Former Army Panelist

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantanamo Bay are deeply flawed, based on vague evidence prepared by poorly trained junior officers and conducted by panelists who are heavily pressured to conclude that prisoners are enemy combatants, according to an Army reserve officer who has served on one of the panels.

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Abraham, an Army intelligence officer since 1982 and now a practicing attorney in California, has sworn in an affidavit unsealed on Friday that when he and two other panelists found that a detainee should not be classified as an enemy combatant, they were ordered to review the case and take into account additional evidence presented by the government.

When they completed their case review and refused to reverse their decision, they were questioned in a series of meetings by their superiors who wanted to know “what went wrong”. Mr Abraham said after that, he was never asked to serve on another panel.

Mr Abraham also served as a liaison officer between the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and Guantanamo Bay. He stated that, in addition to screening the intelligence provided to personnel at Guantanamo, intelligence agencies refused to give assurances that they had not withheld any information that might indicate a detainee’s innocence. He also said that staff who prepared evidence against detainees were “relatively junior officers with little training or experience in matters relating to the collection, processing, analyzing and/or dissemination of intelligence material.”

On Friday, the Defense Department denied that intelligence was screened in the government’s favor and that the Guantanamo tribunals were unfair. Spokesman Chito Peppler said the process was “fair, rigorous and robust” and always conducted by a “neutral decision-making panel.”

Meanwhile, Bush administration officials at the highest level have been engaged in fresh talks to find a way to close down Guantanamo Bay, owing to increasing pressure from critics at home and abroad, as well as repeated legal rebukes from the US Supreme Court.

There is also legislation afoot in the US Congress which would require the closure of Guantanamo Bay. New proposals include transferring detainees to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, granting detainees access to lawyers regardless of whether or not they are put on trial and allowing them to challenge their detentions in federal court.

Previous attempts to close Guantanamo were blocked by Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

However, the consensus to close down Guantanamo is gaining new momentum with the strong support of new Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush himself.

US, Iraqi Forces Kill Al Qaeda Militants

US troops launched a blazing assault on al Qaeda in Iraq overnight, leaving 22 militants dead by daybreak.

A combined force of 10,000 US and Iraqi ground troops launched the offensive in Diyala province to curb the relentless wave of car bombings and kidnappings that has continued around Iraq despite the US troop surge and new security crackdown.

Two thousand soldiers led the charge in Baquba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, backed up by heavily armored Stryker and Bradley combat vehicles, attack helicopters and other air support. Baquba is the capital of Diyala province, a notorious al Qaeda stronghold.

“Task Force Lightning commenced Operation Arrowhead Ripper today in a large-scale effort to eliminate al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists operating in Baquba and its surrounding areas,” said a statement released by the US military.

General David Petraeus, commander of the multi-national force in Iraq, recently named al Qaeda public enemy number one in Iraq.

The raids in Diyala reflect the migration of al Qaeda and Sunni Arab insurgent bases away from Baghdad and Anbar province, where additional US troops have been concentrated. Anbar tribal chiefs have also recently formed an uneasy alliance with US troops to drive al Qaeda out of their province, because of the group’s murderous rampages in local communities there.

Since relocating to Diyala province, al Qaeda has conducted public executions in the Baquba main square and imposed strict Islamic law on the local population.

Diyala’s Iraqi military commander, Major General Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, said that handcuffs, swords and electricity cables – believed to have been used as implements of torture – had been seized in the Baquba raids.

“The end state is to destroy the al Qaeda influences in this province and eliminate their threat against the people,” said Brigadier-General Mick Bednarek, a deputy commanding US general in the 25th Infantry Division. “That is the number one, bottom-line, up-front, in-your-face, task and purpose.”

The overnight assault, one of the largest single operations since the US-led invasion in 2003, is still in its opening stages.

Iraq Al Qaeda Commander Jugheifi Killed

A senior al Qaeda commander in Iraq was shot dead on Saturday in Fallujah by unidentified gunmen, a killing believed to be related to the increasing trend of Sunni insurgents turning on the terrorist organization.

Muwaffaq al-Jugheifi had allegedly been responsible for numerous crimes in Anbar Province including kidnapping. He had also led bloody clashes against rival insurgent groups.

Two hundred Anbar tribal chiefs recently declared war on al Qaeda because of the militants’ murderous rampages in the predominantly Sunni province.

Tribal chiefs, the US military and nationalist insurgent groups have all been forced to re-evaluate their priorities and forge a reluctant truce to defeat a ruthless common enemy in al Qaeda, and hopefully drive them out of Iraq.

So far this year, around 12,000 Anbar residents have joined the Iraqi security forces, twelve times last year’s number. The US pays for their training, which takes place in Jordan, before their deployment on the streets of Anbar.

These developments have caused US military officials to speak of a ‘turnaround’ in Anbar province, which has long been a Sunni insurgent stronghold. Anbar has also claimed the lives of nearly 1,300 US troops since the 2003 invasion of Iraq – more than any other province. Five thousand extra US soldiers were recently sent to Anbar as part of President Bush’s troop surge.

Anbar tribal chiefs have further vowed to hunt down al Qaeda throughout Iraq. Muwaffaq was gunned down in Fallujah days after the chiefs sent 50 secret police into the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah to kill al Qaeda militants who had been attacking other insurgent groups. After two days of fierce battles, the neighborhood is said to be cautiously calm. The number of casualties on either side is not yet known.

Despite the immediate benefits of the new alliances in terms of fighting al Qaeda, the insurgency remains strongly opposed to the US occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Sunni insurgency remains equally committed to bringing down the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has not yet begun the reconciliation process that will be necessary to unite Iraq.

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